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How can I improve my body image?

Positive role models shape a healthy body image

Maybe you’re wondering “how can I improve my body image” in our body perfectionist culture?

Well, what if you knew when you were younger that all bodies aren’t the same?

Every body is different

That’s what 26-year-old pop singer and former “American Idol” contestant, Jax, wished somebody had told her.

This summer she posted “Victoria’s Secret,” a song she wrote about toxic body ideals. And clearly, it resonated – boosting her TikTok followers to over 11.9 million.

The song, inspired by a 14-year-old girl that Jax babysits, fights back against the body shame the teenager experienced while shopping at Victoria’s Secret for a swimsuit. When Jax picked her up from the mall the girl was crying. Her friends had told her that she was “too fat and flat” to wear a bikini, she shared on TikTok. And Jax could relate.

Comparing her body to photoshopped images of false ideals of health, fitness and beauty and “itty bitty models on magazine covers,” led to disordered behaviors with food.

“Can’t have carbs and a hot girl summer. The f—ing pressure I was under to lose my appetite, and fight the cellulite, with Hunger Games like every night” are lyrics from her song.

How can I improve my body image? Know that normal bodies have body fat, cellulite, stretch marks, any signs of being human and living your one precision life.
How can I improve my body image? Know that normal bodies have body fat, cellulite, stretch marks, any signs of being human and living your one precision life.

So, what would Jax go back and tell her younger self?

“I know Victoria’s ‘secret,’” she sings. “She was made up by a dude. She’s an old man who lives in Ohio, making money off of girls like me, cashing in on body issues, selling skin and bones and big boobs.”

Body appreciation shaped in youth

Boy did I need this song some four decades ago. I grew up in Victoria’s Secret culture.

Lamenting my cellulite and lack of “thigh gap,” I sunbathed slathered in Hawaiian Tropic oil, lounging on a plastic lawn chair in my backyard. My 16-year-old self thought being thin and baking in a tanning bed was the answer to my self-worth.

I bought padded bras and bikini tops. I ate my mom’s fat-free Snackwell cookies and Baked Lays potato chips, leaving me hungry too — for pasta with Parmesan and butter sauce. All my behaviors driven by wanting to fit in, belong and feel good in my skin.

How I wish I’d been exposed to diverse role models – real people representing health, fitness, and beauty. Instead, I would spend far too many years trying to attain one “ideal” look.

Role models crucial to body appreciation

Role models matter. They can shape a healthy body image. And body image is broader than just how we think and feel about our physique. It influences our sense of self, says Charlotte Markey, author of “The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless.”

So how can you improve your body image?

Seek out diverse health and beauty role models to create a positive shift for the next generation. Furthermore, it can help us all heal from toxic body messaging.

Heal from toxic body messaging

In addition to Jax, consider Melisa Raouf, 20, who will be the first to completely forgo makeup while competing for Miss England next month. The event introduced a “Bare Face” round in the competition in 2019. Why? Because most contestants were submitting highly edited images of themselves wearing lots of makeup. Organizers wanted women to “show us who they really are without the need to hide behind makeup and filters on social media,” said Angie Beasley in a New York Post article.

Raouf, who hopes to promote inner beauty and challenge the beauty ideals perpetuated on social media, says she been inundated with messages from other young women expressing how much confidence Raouf has given them.

Or how about 37-year-old, Molly Galbraith, co-founder of Girls Gone Strong? Her worldwide health and fitness movement focuses on helping women feel strong, confident and empowered in their lives and bodies.

In addition, we can also learn from Ali Stoker, the first wheelchair-using actor to appear on a Broadway stage and the first to be nominated for and win a Tony Award.

“We’ve been convinced to be more concerned with others’ experience of looking at our bodies than our own experience in living in our bodies” says Stoker in an Everyday Health article titled “Celebrities Who’ve Spoken Out About Body Image.”

And one of my favorite role models in athletics is 41-year-old mom and greatest of all time tennis star Serena Williams, who’s been outspoken about her body throughout her career.

“I look like a normal athlete,” Williams told the Miami Herald in 2015.

We’ve been taught for decades that all bodies can and should be the same shape to be worthy, healthy or beautiful. So William’s message can’t be shared enough.

Normalize normal bodies for body confidence

Consider how you might think and feel about your whole self if you grew up with role models who looked like you — without makeup, wearing a swimsuit or playing your favorite sport.

And let’s remember that the people who influence how we feel and think about our bodies the most are those we encounter everyday — teachers, doctors, coaches, parents.

Read more: Mom’s body attitude shape’s daughters

Jax says that “Victoria’s Secret” was her way to share her personal story with people of all ages and genders. Never compare your body to what you see on media. The song was intended as a message to all corporations, not just Victoria’s Secret, marketing toward people’s insecurities she told PopSugar.

“I hate the idea of anybody losing their sense of self-worth while someone else gets rich off of it” Jax says.

How can I improve my body image? Know your body's worth is infinite.
How can I improve my body image? Know your body’s worth is infinite.

Ultimately, the whole point of her song is to normalize diversity in body types. And it’s working. She’s seeing a “million different shapes and sizes and colors and stories rocking out” to her song and feeling super confident in their skin.

We all can, because now we know Victoria’s real secret is, “She was never made for [real bodies like] me and you.”

Improve your body image by seeking out healthy role models. ♡ Tanya

[Originally published in the September 28, 2022 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide.]

Make peace with your summer body

Summertime is (finally) here, and the warm temperatures call for shorts, tanks and swimsuits. If you love or like your body, no matter what it looks like, terrific. But if you don’t, baring more skin can produce body insecurities.

Over 91% of women report struggling with some aspect of their appearance. It makes sense when women compare their bodies to perfectionist images that less than 5% of women naturally possess. So that means most of our bodies don’t “measure up.” It’s a frustrating statistic to face when bodies are supposed to be diverse, as our uniqueness is what makes us human.

To address this reality, body positive messages such as “love your body, flaws and all” or “every body is a swimsuit body,” are wonderful, yet it’s understandable if you just can’t relate. Despite seeing progress with body diversity in women’s clothing brands, you’ll still be bombarded with “perfect” images in advertising because creating body insecurities sells — cellulite creams, anti-aging potions or quick- fix weight diets. It’s a multibillion-dollar business that’s not going anywhere.

Because of this unfortunate truth, it’s important to build your body image resilience muscle. To be clear, having a healthy body image isn’t about what your body looks like but how you think and feel about your own body.

Benefits include:

Benefits of healthy body image

So how can you make peace with your summer body?

Consider the practice of body neutrality.

What is body neutrality?

It’s establishing a neutral relationship with your body. It’s taking the focus off your body’s appearance and placing it on its purpose — as a vessel for living your life, a home for expressing your true self — your spirit, your soul, like you once did when you were a kid.

Kids are body neutral. They simply enjoy their bodies. They use their bodies as a vehicle to live and express themselves instead of defining them by appearance, that is, until they observe that our culture sadly values some bodies over others.

But you can return to valuing your body for its true purpose (and teach your kids, too). You can reap the benefits of having the healthy relationship with your body by practicing these three body neutral skills:

First, if you feel a little (or a lot) “meh” toward your body, shower yourself with self-compassion, the same kindness you would share with your best friend, daughter, or anyone who feels challenged, acknowledging that the lack of body diversity and perfectionist body ideals is one that most women face.

Practice getting out of your head and back into your body. Humans have a natural tendency toward the negative: What’s wrong with me? You can begin by noticing and naming these thoughts and actively choose to see your body as you once did as a child.

Yes, your brain can be retrained. Mindfulness skills such as meditation and breathing exercises are great practices to break the chain of negative body focus. While it may seem like a simple practice, neuroscience research proves that it works. So make a conscious effort to redirect your brain toward body purpose not appearance.

Next, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take care of your body, no matter how it appears.

We often judge our own health and fitness by our body size. But that’s not true health. A thin body may be healthy or not; a larger body may be healthy or not.

Your health is multi-faceted and if you’re viewing it based solely on the number on the scale, you’re missing critical key factors that affect your wellbeing.

These factors, known as your “deep health,” include your physical health as well as your mental and emotional health, the quality of your connection with others, the environment that you live in and existential health: Are you living your life with purpose?

And what brings meaning to your life isn’t the pursuit of body “ideals.”

My intention in writing this article for my column in the Jackson Hole News and Guide has been to shine a light on our limited view on what it means to be healthy, and in particular, how it’s often confused with the “look” of health.

So that’s why my focus as a wellness coach isn’t about you achieving one magical number on the scale but instead on teaching you to build healthy behaviors with your food (not a diet), movement, sleep and stress management skills, while considering all the factors that influence your ability to take care of yourself. And ultimately success is allowing your body to be where it healthiest, instead of focusing on the “look” — the supposed aesthetic of health.

As Dr. Kara Mohr of “Girls Gone Strong” says, “We may have attachment to an ideal body weight, despite powerful evidence that our bodies may be stronger, fitter, faster, healthier at a different weight.”

And finally, I want to leave you with one final body neutral practice.

Feel good about yourself in whatever body you have. Wear summer clothes that suit your unique body. And if you’re not comfortable revealing certain body parts with shorts or sleeveless tops, it’s OK.

Wave the white flag. Our hearts our craving more — to be more than our bodies. Let your spirit, your soul, the real you shine through whatever body you were gifted. Be kind to your body. Be compassionate with yourself. Show yourself true self-care. Make peace with your body by practicing body neutrality this summer.

Want some support in caring for your summer body? Apply for coaching! I’d love be your guide. ♡ Tanya

3 Steps to Banish Body Comparison

Do you struggle with body comparison, your body image? What if you could live your best life in whatever body you have?

I’m reading Brene Brown’s new book Atlas of the Heart and was struck by her research on comparison. Brown says that humans are hardwired to default to comparison and that it seems to happen to us rather than be our choice.

She shared a story about her love for swimming and how she used to shift her attention to the person in the next lane which had the potential to ruin her swim. She compared herself to a twentysomething triathlete. (We’ll return to her story below.)

“If we don’t want this constant automatic ranking to negatively shape our lives, our relationships, and our future, we need to stay aware enough to know when it’s happening and what emotions it’s driving” says Brown.

Brown says that the goal is to raise our awareness about how and why comparison happens so we can name them, think about them, and make choices that reflect our values and our heart.

Here’s Brown’s definition of comparison:

Comparison is the crush of conformity from one side and competition from the other – it’s trying to simultaneously fit and stand out. Comparison says, be like everyone else, but better.

Comparison drives big feelings that affect our relationships, self-worth and feelings of well-being.

The good news, she says, is that you get to choose how you’re going to let it affect you. Instead, you can be yourself and respect others for being authentic.

3 Steps to Banish Body Comparison

1. Embrace imperfection.

How did we get to this place where we compare ourselves against perfection? Well, we live in a perfectionist body culture that portrays an “ideal” body type as only looking one way: thin, young and pretty (or muscular, young and handsome). Less than 5% of people naturally possess this body type and of course bodies change as we live, nobody is getting younger and at some point (if ever) we will no longer fit ideal beauty standards.

2. Focus on the positive.

Focus on something you do like about yourself to prevent your mind from automatically hyper focusing on what you don’t (*what I like to call “going down the rabbit hole of sht). For example, if you’ve been hard on your body weight, focus on a feature that you do like. I personally choose to focus on my green eyes.

Be positive. What you focus on expands.

3. See your whole self.

We tend to see ourselves as a bunch of body parts that are judged and scrutinized. We think that others are focusing on and judging the body parts that we don’t like about ourselves but they aren’t (and if they do it’s often because they have their own body insecurities). So, let’s send them kindness and compassion.

Remember, that when you compare yourself to somebody that you feel “looks perfect” that you don’t know how this person feels about themselves on the inside. Body image isn’t about appearance. It’s about how we think and feel about our bodies.

Practice seeing yourself as a whole person, not a sum of body parts. This includes seeing yourself beyond your physical body because you are more than a body.

Let’s show ourselves kindness and self-compassion.

You can retrain your brain to shift away from comparison with awareness and make new choices. And research shows that it works!

So let’s return to Brown’s swimming story. Her new strategy is “to look at the person in the lane next to me, and say to myself, as if I’m talking to them, ‘Have a great swim.’ That way I acknowledge the inevitable and make conscious decision to wish them well and return to my swim. So far, it’s working pretty well,” she says.

Instead of comparing bodies, look for the joy

The more we know, the more we can choose connection over comparison.

– Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart

How does comparison shows up in your life? Shoot me an email and let me know or share a comment or question! I’d love to hear from you. ♡ T

P.S. Looking for body image support? Send me an email to get on the waitlist for my next Be Body Positive Group Coaching class. Get the details here.

10 Benefits of Intuitive Eating

What are the ten benefits of Intuitive Eating?

Learn the benefits of Intuitive Eating and how they can help you establish a healthy relationship with food and your body.

1. No more dieting

The first principle of Intuitive Eating is Reject the Diet Mentality. Why is this so important?

Diets have taught you not to listen to your body. The good news is that you can re-learn by practicing the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.

Diets don’t teach you how to have a healthy relationship with food which is an essential to reaching “gentle nutrition” which is the end goal of Intuitive Eating. Diets may give you short term weight loss but it’s almost always followed by regaining the weight and often more. Diets aren’t meant to be sustainable. Remember, diets are designed for short term “success” with repeat business as billion dollar industry!

2. No more trying to ‘control’ hunger

The second principle of Intuitive Eating is foundational. It focuses on a critical skill that you may have lost due to diet culture – honoring your own individual hunger.

You may have learned to ignore your hunger through diets, skipping meals, intermittent fasting etc. But your body is asking for the exact opposite – to listen for your body’s cues telling you that you need energy and respond when hunger feels gentle. Why? Because once you feel ravenous (hangry!), all bets are off for eating to comfortable fullness.

♡ KEY POINT: Honoring your hunger when it’s gentle is foundational to honoring comfortable fullness.

3. No more ‘forbidden’ foods

One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can reduce sugar cravings.
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can reduce sugar cravings.

What if having donuts (insert your forbidden food) in your house was no big deal?

Perhaps there’s a family member in your house that may grab a donut, cookie, brownie and moves on. No guilt for eating it. No desire to eat the whole bag. This is the way a non dieter’s mind works according to research.

Through an evidence process called habituation, you too can have a healthy relationship with all foods including your ‘forbidden’ foods.

More benefits of Intuitive Eating

4. No more food rules, cheat days

Diets and eating plans are full of food rules. Once you break one by eating a “bad” food, you feel like you failed. This is madness.

Consider that every year new “plans” (diets) come out that often contradict the rules of previous diets – don’t eat fat, eat mostly fat (yes I remember the eat fat free food rules which have been replaced by eat fat according to the Keto diet). Sigh.

You don’t need a set of rules to eat healthy. Instead you will learn how to listen to your body and eat healthy foods for the most part as healthy eating isn’t perfect eating.

5. No more dissatisfied, pleasureless eating

In Intuitive Eating, finding satisfaction in your eating experiences is important. Let me share an infographic to illustrate what happens when we “diet” and have “forbidden” foods.

Dieting mindset versus Intuitive Eater mindset
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can reduce overeating by bringing satisfaction to your plate.

Humans are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So you will continue to seek pleasure and satisfaction until you get it (notice how much food was eaten by the dieter versus the Intuitive Eater (non dieter).

6. No more controlled portion sizes

In order to honor fullness, you first learn how to honor your hunger needs.

Next, ditch controlled portion sizes because they’re not one size fits all – meaning that your body’s unique energy needs change every day.

Instead you learn how feel your body’s cues of comfortable fullness.

Hunger and fullness scale
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can teach you how to listen to your hunger and fullness.

7. No more beating yourself up for ‘emotional’ eating

Emotional eating is demonized in diet culture which is deeply imbedded in Western culture as “bad” and something to fix. The truth is that we are all emotional eaters to some degree as we’ve learned since infancy to equate food with love, comfort and pleasure. So it makes perfect sense that we go to food as a quick fix to feel or not feel. The solution is to have a toolbox of coping mechanisms to go to beyond food.

And there’s one other cause of emotional eating: dieting, restricting your food. Nothing will make you feel more emotional than not getting your energy needs met and not being allowed to eat a food you love because it’s forbidden on your plan.

8. No more body bashing

Learning to respect body is critical to your self-care. Diet culture is based in body shame. It teaches you that there’s only one body size that’s healthy and that your body should never change as you move through the stages of life. All of this is BS.

Unlearning toxic body image messages
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can help you have a healthy relationship with your unique body.

Through Intuitive Eating you learn how to honor your unique diverse body with self love, not self-control. Having a healthy body image isn’t about what your body looks like. Instead, it’s about your mindset toward your body and separating your self-worth from your appearance.

9. No more exercise to “burn and earn” food

In Intuitive Eating principle 9, you learn to decouple moving your body from diet culture – as merely a means to changing your body, focusing on the scale as “success.”

Could you move your body because there are a ton of benefits of exercise that don’t have you focused on your weight such as getting stronger, feeling more empowered, energized, confident and overall improving the quality of your life?

And one my favorite benefits of Intuitive Eating is:

10. No more ‘perfect eating’ to be healthy

The final principle of Intuitive Eating is Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition. It’s the last guideline because you first have to learn how to listen to your body’s signals to guide you in principles 1 – 9. Now you will be able to listen for how your food choices make you feel versus external food rules.

And most of all, you learn that what you eat is just a piece of your whole health so you don’t need to eat “perfectly” because there’s a complex set of factors that affects your well-being including the social determinants of health. Healthy eating is what you eat consistently over time – for the most part eating!

* Have a question about Intuitive Eating? I’d love to hear from you, Tanya

P.S. Want to learn more? Check out The Anti-Diet is called Intuitive Eating.

Body Appreciation Key to Healthful Aging

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I recently read a post by an over-50 woman lamenting that she could no longer eat pasta. Dozens of women commented below, offering low-carb recipe substitutions, commiserating with her on the unwelcome midlife “muffin top.”

That post represents how most older women feel about their aging bodies. According to a 2013 study, “Characteristics of women with body size satisfaction at midlife” in the Journal of Women and Aging, an alarming 88% of women age 50 and over reported body size dissatisfaction. And that statistic doesn’t merely point to body image challenges.

Body dissatisfaction is negatively related to health behaviors and quality of life.

According to Dr. Elayne Daniels, an anti-diet, trauma-informed clinical psychologist, negative body image has an increased risk of health problems, including eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and nutritional deficiencies. It can produce low self-esteem, social withdrawal and avoidance of events and activities due to self-consciousness, increased pursuit of “diet” plans, engagement in risky behaviors like smoking to try to lose weight, and mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, trying to avoid body shame may prevent women from seeking health care and preventive screenings, which can create poorer health outcomes.

On the other hand, satisfied women had a lower body mass index and reported fewer dieting behaviors and fewer eating disorder symptoms, which are rapidly emerging as a major public health problem for women at and beyond midlife, according to Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist, in her 2019 article “Body Image, Eating Disorders, and Women at and Beyond Midlife: The Nine Truths.”

Yet even among the 12% of women who reported body satisfaction, 40% admitted that a 5-pound weight gain would make them moderately to extremely upset. Weight and shape play a prominent role in how middle-age women feel about themselves, reports study co-author Cristin Runfola.

Body satisfaction is a critical piece to enhancing well-being and healthful aging for women over 50 and beyond. And let’s be clear, body satisfaction isn’t about liking the way you look.

“Rather, it’s about building up a solid sense of self so that our appearance isn’t something that can make or break us anymore” says body image coach Summer Innanen.

“Diet culture, the beauty industry, Hollywood, etc., have told us that our destiny is dependent on being attractive, so it’s not our fault that we’ve conflated our happiness (and health) with looking a certain way” says Innanen.

But how can midlife women ditch body shame for appreciation?

Culturally, we need to shift away from the negative narrative about weight gain that occurs in women’s bodies throughout the life cycles. When we have open dialogue about these natural shifts, the shame fades.

“We gain weight at menarche, with the birth of each child, and we gain weight at menopause, so we’re not going to have the same body size and shape at 50 as we had at 20. And if we don’t expect that, that would be a help” says Joan Chrisler, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College and researcher of weight and eating disorders in women.

Maine agrees: “Today, we criticize an adult woman because she no longer has the body of a 16- or 20-year-old. Although natural for the adult female body, all weight gain is considered wrong.”

When Maine shares information about the incredible natural resources of the female body, she says women slowly begin to appreciate its natural wisdom and are more likely to make changes in their attitudes and behaviors. In her article, she states compelling facts about the protective nature of body fat such as:

– Women’s bodies are designed for survival, hardwired to beat starvation. In a famine, only about 10% of women die while as many as 50% of men will. It’s body fat that protects women.

– Before puberty, a girl’s body is about 12% body fat. After, it’s 17% in order to produce ovulation and menstruation. A mature woman’s body is about 22% body fat, “providing the energy necessary for an ovulating female to survive famine for nine months” says Maine. Thus, women’s bodies have the capacity to maintain the human race.

– The weight that women gain after puberty and menopause is protective. To preserve fertility, reproductive and feeding organs, women first gain fat in their breasts, buttocks, hips and thighs. During the transitional phase into menopause, weight gain of approximately 12 to 15 pounds along with about a 15% to 20% decrease in metabolism naturally occurs. These biologically programmed changes allow women to manage menopausal symptoms, maintain bone density and decrease the risk for osteoporosis. Maine says hormonal shifts during this transitional phase increase the size of fat cells surrounding our reproductive organs as these cells produce estrogen, offsetting the shutdown of the ovaries.

Furthermore, malnutrition and dieting in midlife and beyond can be particularly risky.

According to Maine’s research, depleted fat stores will likely increase menopausal symptoms, and muscle-wasting can reduce metabolic rate and hasten neuromuscular decline. She also found that cognitive impairment secondary to dieting may also be greater, and the mortality risk associated with low weight is greater as people age.

Research in the American Journal of Public Health study “Associations Between Body Composition, Anthropometry, and Mortality in Women Aged 65 Years and Older” found that women with BMIs in the “overweight” category from 25 to 29.9 had the lowest mortality. Moderate weight gain in midlife is associated with longer life expectancy for women.

Finally, Maine shares that “most — even well-informed, resourceful women — don’t know these facts. The truth is that the female body simply knows how to take care of itself.” Thus it’s key to women’s whole health to elevate the conversation regarding midlife body changes as natural and protective, not something to be ashamed of, but appreciated.

With these facts, one of Maine’s clients, a 73-year old woman who battled her body for decades, moved from body shame to appreciation, stating, “I used to see this roll around my middle as my spare tire, and I hated it. Now I see it as my life preserver!”

So ladies, instead of berating our bellies and restricting pasta from our plates, let’s make peace with and respect the wisdom of our bodies.

This article was originally published in the August 4th edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

Embrace body in all its forms for self care

Body dissatisfaction and eating challenges are on the rise, affecting every sector of our population, from our youth to our elderly, but with an alarming increase among teens, young adults and children of increasingly younger ages.

We’ve reached a point in history where nearly every person is in some way affected by society’s heightened focus on beauty images, health and weight.

– Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, co-founders of The Body Positive.

Almost half of American children between first and third grade want to be thinner, half of 9- and 10-year-old girls are dieting, and 58.6% of girls and 29.2% of boys are actively dieting. More than half of teenage girls and nearly a third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives according to the Redefining Wellness Project.

What’s creating this heartbreaking reality?

The younger generation has learned to hate their bodies and “diet” from our culture — from us.

 

Redefining Wellness reports that “75% of American women surveyed endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies,” and “Americans spend over $60 billion on dieting and diet products each year” even though “95% of diets fail and most of us will regain the lost weight in 1-5 years.”

Kids model adult behavior — how we react to ourselves in a family photo, how we approach “good nutrition” going on and off “diets” to maintain or shrink our bodies, how we talk negatively about our bodies as they change, age — making them fear they won’t be loved unless they possess an “ideal” body. Sadly, this is normal, everyday adult conversation.

We can do better. We have the power to create the necessary cultural shift to save the next generation from negative body image as a root cause of many unhealthy behaviors with food and exercise.

 

You can learn to live peacefully and healthfully in your body by becoming competent in the five core skills of the Be Body Positive Model.

The model teaches us to:

♡ Reclaim health ♡ Practice intuitive self-care ♡ Cultivate self-love ♡ Declare our own authentic beauty ♡ Build community

ONE: Begin with the foundation of this work: Reclaiming your health.

Reduce suffering and heal from body dissatisfaction by challenging the ingrained societal and familial messages that say wellness is dependent on your weight.

Learn to identify and reject the billion-dollar diet industry that drives and profits off of body shame. If you’re not thin (enough) or if you gain weight for any reason, diet culture promotes “wellness” plans to achieve “health,” aka thinness, albeit temporary. Eventually you regain the weight, often more as a protective mechanism against future self-imposed famines. And then you start again, because it “worked” before, right? Truth bomb: All dieting is yo-yo dieting.

Maybe you’ve been able to maintain your body size, but at what cost? Has your forever diet led to obsessive behaviors with food and/or exercise?

To reclaim health, ditch diets and the limited view of health that equates your weight to your wellness.

♡ Want more inspiration and love to listen to podcasts?

Check out my latest interview: The Anti-Diet and Body Respect Movement – Episode 43 of the Love Your Enthusiasm podcast.

TWO: The next step to becoming body positive competent is to strengthen your intuitive self-care skills.

Improve your health by listening for and responding to your unique body’s needs with eating, exercise and all aspects of your life.

The outside advice from “experts” telling you what’s best for your body may not be right for you. What? No gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free food plan to follow? With no food rules you may feel lost at first because you’ve become disassociated from your body, like it’s an object, just a machine to be fed and moved.

Instead, intuitive self-care teaches you to get back inside your body. With practice you’ll gain confidence to be the expert of your own body and health.

THREE: The third body competency skill is building a self-love practice.

Self-love is about cultivating kindness, respect and compassion for yourself and your perfectly imperfect human body. It’s a deep knowing that you are valuable and worthy regardless of your body’s size or appearance. And research shows that it leads to improved self-care — the intuitive kind, that is.

Furthermore, self-love is protective against your inner mean voice that hijacks your brain when you don’t like what you see in the mirror. Instead of pushing away your negative body talk, a self-love practice teaches you to turn toward the discomfort and meet it head on with compassion, giving you permission to be human and reject ideals.

 

FOUR: Next, you have permission to be entirely yourself and declare your authentic beauty.

Instead of feeling ashamed, fighting and fixing your “flawed” parts, respect body diversity and honor that your body is expected to change through each developmental stage of life.

“Finding beauty in aging, growing, and in being different means beauty is no longer something static we try to attain, but rather a part of our lived, changing experience,” body positive leader, Sarah Lewin says.

This wisdom, like self-love, also leads to true self-care, because you let go of striving to meet society’s definition of beauty.

We radiate beauty in many ways that have nothing to do with our appearance. For example, my beauty is my laugh, my passion for the body positive movement, the giddiness I feel when surfing a wave and my singing silly commercial jingles out of tune.

“Seeing our beauty is not an exercise in vanity — it’s a necessary component of good physical and emotional health,” Sobczak says.

FIVE: And finally, one of the easiest ways to reclaim your health, practice intuitive self-care and self-love and see your own beauty is in a supportive body positive community.

Together let’s promote awareness and education to reject our culture’s perfectionist body ideals that have led to the alarming increase in body dissatisfaction and unhealthy behaviors with food and exercise.

Join me in creating a Be Body Positive community — for the health of our kids, for every body.

See more, be more than your body

Be more than a body.

More than an empowering mantra, that is a call to action, led by Dr. Lindsay Kite and Dr. Lexie Kite, body image researchers and founders of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined.

To take a powerful leap forward for positive body image the Kites ask us to see beyond the “all bodies are beautiful, flaws and all” messaging, which is important because it expands the idea of beauty, to take the focus off looks by knocking beauty from the pedestal of how girls and women are valued.

Bombarded by messages defining their value by their body’s appearance, women and girls are seen as bodies first — objects, which the Kites call out as objectification — a foundational piece of their work.

So let’s define objectification, discuss how women internalize these messages called self-objectification, and then transform the pain and shame of body image disruptions through “body image resilience” to be more than body.

Redefining ‘normal’

Objectification is any message or idea that slowly chips away at the idea that women are fully human. It treats us as objects, as parts, in need of fixing, to be looked at, to be evaluated, to be used, to be consumed, to be tossed aside when we don’t fit the ideals, says Dr. Lexie Kite.

It’s social media ads marketing tummy control clothes to hide and flatten belly “rolls.” It’s billboards selling treatments promising to cure cellulite — a normal and natural characteristic of at least 80% of women’s bodies. It’s the amount of screen time movies and TV shows devote to showing women half naked or all naked compared with men. It’s the belief that women need to lose weight to fit into a smaller size wedding dress instead of buying a dress that fits now. It’s in the lyrics of songs — have you listened to them closely?

It’s everywhere. We’re so used to seeing and hearing these messages that it has become invisible and “normal” to objectify women’s bodies. But it’s not normal.

‘The Invisible Corset’

Girls were once fully embodied, enjoying their bodies without a care in the world as to their external appearance. Their bodies were just their Earth suits — that is, until their first body image disruptions occurred, such as being teased for being flat-chested or being told they’d be so much prettier if they’d just lose weight.

Girls learn that their external shells matter. They then internalize these objectifying messages, seeing themselves from this outside view, objects to be consumed. This is self-objectification.

It starts young. Nine years old is the average age when a girl puts on her “invisible corset,” knowing that going forward her value is inextricably tied to her appearance, says Lauren Geertsen, author of “The Invisible Corset.”

Body image disruptions become all consuming: When she steps on the scale and doesn’t like the number, sees herself in a photo, feels self-conscious in her school gym uniform, tries on clothes in the dressing room and, as a woman, when her body is judged by a romantic partner, when she has a baby, when she goes through a breakup … and the list goes on.

The feeling is shame, the sense that there’s something wrong with her body — with her.

From shame to resilience

To cope with disruptions, women and girls can take three pathways, according to the Kites’ research. The first and most harmful path is sinking deeper into shame, which can lead to depression and disengaging with life, to trying to numb the pain with dangerous behaviors such as cutting, disordered eating and disordered exercise.

Or she may try to find “comfort” in our objectifying culture by trying to fix her “flaws,” covering up under-eye circles, fighting wrinkles, strategically dressing to hide parts of her body. This becomes a normal part of a girl’s and woman’s life. Again, not normal. But most women live in this state throughout their lives:

Age 16: I hate my body.

Age 24: I hate my body. I wish I looked like I did at 16.

Age 30: I hate my body. I wish I looked like I did at 24.

Age 37: I hate my body. I wish I looked like I did at 30.

Age 45: I hate my body. I wish I looked like I did at 37.

Age 50: I hate my body. I wish I looked like I did at 45.

Age 65: I hate my body. I wish I looked like I did at 50.

(Source: The Body Love Society)

But women and girls can disrupt this destructive path by taking the third path, rising with “body image resilience” — the ability to become stronger because of the difficulties and shame women experience in their bodies, not in spite of those things — which is the Kite sisters’ mission and the focus of their book “More Than A Body.”

My favorite resilience strategy is “prove yourself wrong.” Let’s say you’re stuck in the self-objectifying belief that you’re not lovable and can’t find love until you lose weight. Instead of sinking into shame or trying to “fix” your body, you choose resilience instead by dating now — and prove your worst fears wrong.

Ultimately the solution is to give girls and women their humanity back by knocking beauty from the pedestal of how our girls and women are valued.

“Achieving peace with our bodies through developing positive body image is the final frontier for too many woman — the last and most stubborn barrier to our own confidence, fulfillment, power, and self-actualization,” the Kite sisters write. “We can be empowered and emboldened and confident and successful in every other area of our lives, and yet still struggle with deep-seated body shame and self-objectification to which we sacrifice incredible amounts of time, money, emotion and energy.”

So let’s be more than beautiful, more than a body — and take action and rise with resilience, ladies.

♡ Want more anti-diet and healthy body image inspiration? Listen to my podcast interview on Health in the Hole – Episodes 19 & 20 – Non-Diet Nutrition and Body Image.

(Originally published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, February 17, 2021).

Ditch the weight-based resolutions

What if you didn’t start a new “diet” every January?

No restriction. No elimination. No guilt. No shame. No “shoulds.” No “failure.”

And what if you actually became healthier? No scale necessary.

Sounds great, right? Got it, you say. I’ve got one in mind that says it’s “not a diet.” Such “non-diets” fill our inboxes or social media feeds, promising to rid us of the “Quarantine15,” pandemic weight gain that I wrote about back in April (“As you shelter in place, forget about your weight”).

So first, a quick PSA: Don’t be fooled. Diets have rebranded by co-opting terms from eating psychology, Intuitive Eating and the anti-diet movement, claiming they’re not “fad diets.” Ultimately, if you have to restrict or eliminate specific foods — to limit when you’re allowed to eat or how many calories you can consume — yup, it’s a diet. Ultimately, if you’re promised weight loss, it’s a diet.

You might be thinking, “But what’s wrong with wanting to lose weight?” Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you or me (as I’ve been there too) — or anybody. Instead, what needs questioning are deeply ingrained cultural beliefs such as: It’s weight loss itself that makes you healthier; it’s fat itself that makes you unhealthy; health is entirely your personal responsibility and mainly is about what you eat and how you move, ignoring environment and systemic issues.

“Our stories and bodies are too complex and too varied to fit into the oversimplified narratives peddled by dominant culture,” says the website BeNourished.org. “You may not love the body you occupy, but will you respect it? Try to listen to it? Get curious about it?”

The desire to “diet” may just be a protective coping mechanism for living in a weight-obsessed, size-stigmatizing culture. We all want and deserve to belong, to feel good about ourselves. It’s a basic human need. When it comes to our approach to whole health, I believe we can do better.

Try healthy behaviors

Shifting to weight-neutral self-care can feel scary or impossible, or can bring up resistance. It’s natural. I felt this way, too. Separating weight from wellness took me years. This approach might not be for you, right now, or ever. And that’s OK, too. Body autonomy is yours, and yours only, to choose.

So with kindness and compassion I offer four health behaviors to try with the intention of planting a seed to awaken curiosity to learn more about how you can honor your body and yourself without restriction, elimination, guilt, shame or “shoulds.”

Ditch the scale

First, take one baby step and maybe put the scale away. You know how “that number” can either make or break your day, which is hard on mental health, which is often neglected in our pursuit of physical “health.”

Consider if you’ve ever given up on healthy behaviors because you didn’t reach your “ideal” number or couldn’t maintain it. When you practice healthy behaviors your body may prefer to weigh more, less or stay the same. Your body is meant to change as you age and move through stages of life. There is no “ideal” weight you should be forever (as I’ve learned as 51-year-old, postmenopausal woman).

Furthermore, having “a number” interferes with your ability to listen for your body’s physical cues: hunger, fullness, satisfaction, how certain foods make you feel, how movement makes you feel.

So skip the scale and the mental mind game. Keep going. Practice self-care, not self-control. If you want more inspiration to ditch “that number,” read my Nov. 13, 2019, column, titled, “Say ‘no weigh’ to the scale.”

Feel good in your body now

Feeling uncomfortable or unattractive in your clothes sucks. Consider buying a few outfits that make you feel good now. If you’re on a budget, check out online thrift stores and consider consignment or trading with friends. I used to believe that holding onto clothes for if and when was “motivating.” It’s not. It just created guilt, shame and stress.

You deserve to feel good about yourself at any body size. Clothes are supposed to fit you, not the other way around.

Shift your “why”

Detach healthy eating and exercise “success” from a scale number. Focus on the long list of health benefits instead, such as improved health markers, energy, mood and the function of your physical, mental, emotional body. If your primary motivation to eat better or exercise is dependent on and focused solely on counting or burning calories, you may give up if your body doesn’t change (or change enough), thinking, “It’s not working so why bother.”

Keep going, and enjoy how eating and exercise make you feel.

Be more than a body

Finally, embrace body diversity and rebel against messages suggesting your self-worth or value as a human being is tied to your appearance.

‘Aim higher, friends’

In a recent Instagram post, dietitian Anna Sweeney discussed a tough conversation with a client who desired above all else to be thin, young and pretty. It unexpectedly made Sweeney cry “to think about this human’s existence being boiled down to her earth suit. Or any of yours, for that matter. You are not on this planet for the sake of being visually appealing. Period.

“Aim higher, friends,” she says. “We are given one body. That’s it. And truly, taking care of yours has nothing to do with what it looks like.”

A local client concurs: “I’ve spent basically my entire life dieting, then gaining back the weight and more. I felt guilty every time I ate ice cream, even just a spoonful. I’m making peace with food and my body now. Shifting to self-care behaviors without the scale determining my health has given me the courage to like my body for how it is, not what some diet will promise me. I nourish it properly for my active lifestyle. My new personal tag line is, ‘The elimination of the stress of eating is so much better than the elimination and restriction of food.’”

Consider practicing self-care from a weight-neutral place. No restrictions. No elimination. No guilt. No shame. No “shoulds.” No “failure.” No scale.

And get healthier.

Subvert The ‘Body Hierarchy’

My body is not better than or less than your body — or any body.

But is it? As I type this statement I’m spammed. A text notification pops up on my computer screen reading: “Tanya, 1 cup at 8pm shrinks your belly while u sleep, this is why Shark-Tank judges back it! Learn more.”

I question my supposed worthiness as 51-year-old, postmenopausal woman. My rounded belly is judged as a “flaw,” and by purchasing this quick-fix product, I’m promised flat, “attractive” abs, at least defined by perfectionist cultural standards of health and beauty. Sigh.

We’re barraged day after day by these oppressive messages that certain bodies are more valuable than other bodies.

These messages are based on body hierarchy, a system that ranks our place on its ladder depending on our unique human characteristics. Some we’re born with; others change as we live. The list includes body size, gender, race, class, age, ability and health status. Body hierarchy is built on the belief that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to have a body, such as: Thin bodies are better than fat bodies. Young bodies are better than old bodies. Abled bodies are better than disabled bodies.

The root of the cause

So the solution to poor body image isn’t to fix our bodies or even to just try harder to love what we see in the mirror, making our body the problem. It’s to dismantle what’s driving it, the root cause, this system that ranks some bodies as better than others.

When we embrace body diversity the system will crash and body image will be a challenge of the past. Ultimately, by celebrating the uniqueness of each human body we can create a kind, just, compassionate world for every body.

On a recent podcast episode of “Unlocking Us,” shame researcher Brene Brown highlights the potential power we over this body hierarchy. She had read an article revealing that “if every woman woke up and said, ‘I love what I see, I’m not buying anything,’ would be a faster collapse [of the economy] than the airlines after 911. It would be within 24 hours, the entire system.”

Yes: Collectively, we are that powerful.

Embracing body diversity

“Human bodily diversity is a form of natural intelligence,” Sonya Renee Taylor, activist and author of “The Body Is Not an Apology,” says on Brown’s podcast. “It means that all bodies are supposed to be different because that is the version that is specific to your particular journey.

“In order to have a thriving world,” she says, “a thriving ecosystem that works in harmony, we need variance. We recognize that. We know that innately. And yet because we are so far away from our own sense of inherent knowing of our enoughness, we’ve constructed a world where that’s not true for our bodies.”

So, let’s take action.

“‘Check your privilege,’” body image coach Summer Innanen says on her podcast, “Fearless Rebelle Radio,” “means that you bring attention to your words and actions to make sure you’re not harming others who actually experience discrimination, and that you’re using privilege to be an ally to eradicate fat phobia.”

For example, while exploring the body-positive movement I learned that I have “thin privilege” — the advantages that are associated with someone who lives in a body deemed “acceptable” by society and that exist only because of weight stigma, discrimination or stereotyping.

“As a thin or in-between-size person,” Innanen says, “this is not to say that you can’t have a messed-up body image or that you don’t struggle emotionally. Rather, it’s about acknowledging that your experience is not the same as someone who actually lives in a larger body.”

So if we are calling ourselves “fat,” when we are not, we must stop.

Thin or in-between-size people, unlike those living in larger bodies, aren’t bullied or judged by others for simply enjoying a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone. Shopping for clothes in their size is no big deal. And a visit to the doctor’s office isn’t filled with the dread of potentially being judged purely by your body weight.

Or perhaps you do love your body. But “if you only love your body when you love how you look, that’s not love,” says Lexie Kite, co-founder of Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit whose mantra is “Women are more than just bodies. See more. Be more.” She continues, “That is conditional and objectifying. You deserve love.”

Ultimately we must recognize there’s a huge difference between disliking our bodies and being attacked by society for our body size.

Examine your body talk

Because of body insecurities we may shame ourselves for simply eating dessert or having a round belly. While our intention isn’t to harm other bodies, acknowledge these comments as fat phobic.

Furthermore, recognize fat shaming as placing blame and making assumptions about people’s behaviors based solely on their body size, without acknowledging the complex factors that affect our health.

And let’s stop comparing our bodies with other bodies, as comparisons hold up this oppressive system.

Consume body-positive media

The average American woman is between size 16 and 18, according to a 2016 study by the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.

Yet the majority of the images we see don’t represent reality.

We can intentionally choose to consume media that are countercultural, portraying realistic bodies, and to unfollow and block media that make us feel-less than or better-than other bodies.

On Facebook and Instagram we have the power to hide ads or report ads and include a reason. “It’s offensive” is my personal favorite.

And to take a stand against spam texts and emails selling magical belly-shrinking potions, add filters to your phone and computer.

Remember: No body is born inherently better than another body. Body image wouldn’t exist without body hierarchy.

Let’s collapse the system and create a kind, compassionate, just world for every body.
Be a rebel.

(Originally published in my column, Radical Acceptance, Jackson Hole News and Guide, October 14, 2020)

As You Shelter in Place, Forget About Your Weight

Is the Quarantine15 on your mind? It needn’t be.

We’re living in unprecedented times, and the fears are real. But fearing weight gain shouldn’t be one of them.

Social media’s latest pandemic hashtag — quarantine15 — is just ol’ diet culture ramping up again to prey upon our body insecurities, body shaming us for profit. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the posts:

“Gaining weight in college was called the freshman15. This time it will be the quarantine15.”

“Walking around the house in a sports bra will make you put the quarantine snacks away quick. Eat lunch in your swimsuit.”

“Please tell me that I’m not the only COVID Carboholic.”

Shame on you, diet culture, for making us feel ashamed if our bodies change, especially during a global pandemic, especially as food and eating challenges are “normal human responses to a global pandemic that do not need to be pathologized or treated as abnormal,” as stated by experts at TraumaAndCo.com.

Jackson psychologist and Wyoming Psychological Association President Sadie Monaghan concurs, recently sharing this response to weight fearmongering on her Facebook page:

“I am seeing a lot of fatphobic content on social right now. If you need this, let me say it loudly: Eating for comfort during a collective trauma is OK. Gaining a couple of pounds probably means you were forcing your body to be a weight it didn’t like. Urges to hoard food are a human response to perceived scarcity. Not ‘exercising’ for a few weeks or months is not morally wrong.

“You are more than your weight and/or shape. Weight is not equal to health status. Food is not good or bad, it is nourishment, whether for the body or soul or both. Go easy on yourself and others and don’t push weight stigma or food rules during a crisis, or ever.”

Or ever.

This pandemic will end. But diet culture will flourish, unless we burn it down. Remember: The $72 billion dollar-industry can profit only if we feel “flawed.” Diet culture is built on body shame, and it has warped so many into believing that it’s normal and healthy to be obsessed with “fixing” our bodies and to be hypervigilant with food and exercise.

But we can change that at any time, even now. Maybe especially now.

“In the rush to return to normal,” writes Dave Hollis, author of “Get Out Of Your Own Way,” “let’s use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth returning to.”

Collectively, when we speak out and confront diet culture we can start to undermine its place in our society. As shame researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown says, “Shame is deadly. And I think we are swimming in it deep.” But shame can not survive empathy because “shame depends on the belief that I’m alone” Brown says.

Let’s reclaim our time, energy, money, happiness and self-worth. Let’s imagine a new relationship with ourselves.

In this new normal, fitness is building muscles and improving balance, flexibility, agility and the quality of our sleep. It’s strengthening our energy, mood and mental health. It’s not hyperfocused on weight loss or body image. In this new normal, we enjoy movement for the pure joy of it.

In this new normal we explore nutrition and healthful eating as learning and practicing the basics of human nutrition while tuning in to listen to our body’s needs, internal cues of hunger, fullness, satisfaction and which foods make us feel our best. We transition away from a rules-based and restrictive model of nutrition and toward trusting our bodies, something BeNourished.org calls a “birthright.”

“You were born with an inherent trust for your body,” the website says. “Somewhere along the way you became disconnected from that way of knowing.”

In this new normal, health professionals and any person contemplating going on a diet will learn “Health at Every Size,” an evidence-based compassionate model that switches the focus from weight to healthy behaviors.

“Trumpeting obesity concerns and admonishing people to lose weight is not just misguided, but downright damaging,” says Lindo Bacon, author of “Health at Every Size and Body Respect.” “It leads to repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, to food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, weight discrimination, and poor health.

“Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Every time you make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be. Everyone can benefit from good health behaviors.”

In this time of uncertainty I hope what is most important is becoming clear and what is not falls by the wayside. Let the hashtag quarantine15 fall away while you turn your attention to building a new, truly healthy normal.

(This article was published in the April 29, 2020 Jackson Hole News and Guide).